Northern Ireland without injured Laura Rafferty while duo left out after training absence
New Northern Ireland Women's Manager names squad for upcoming Euro 2021 clashes with Norway and Wales
Kenny Shiels will be without one of his key players for the upcoming Euro 2021 Qualifying campaign after Laura Rafferty had to pull out of the squad due to a cruciate ligament injury.
The Brighton & Hove Albion defender was a late withdrawal as Shiels named his first squad since taking over from Alfie Wylie earlier this year. The 23-year-old former Chelsea player is one of just three Northern Ireland internationals playing in the English top flight, along with Everton's Simone Magill and Reading's Rachel Furness.
With Shiels opting to leave a number of the talented Under-19 squad out of the panel this time around for the huge opener against Norway at Seaview on August 30 and the trip to take on Wales in Newport on September 3, the former Kilmarnock and Derry City boss admits that it was a case of the tried and tested experienced heads for the opening fixtures.
"I did consult with Alfie, who helped me establish where we would need to strengthen and what players he felt were up to the international standard. The first thing I decided to do was to not touch the Under-19s, to give them something to aspire to as opposed to going straight into the squad. I did call up Rebecca McKenna, who is very worthy of a place in the squad, though that was down to an injury, and there will be some of the Under-19s in the squad the next time we get together in the Autumn," Shields revealed.
"It hasn't been easy. I've been going over to England on Sundays to get a handle on the players we have. We have Simone Magill and Rachel Furness in the top division and then a few sprinkled through the second tier of English football.
"It's very important to have as many players at a high level. If we were to depend solely on our domestic league, then we wouldn't be able to compete. That's no slight on our domestic league at all. That has to improve and there is an enormous amount of work going on to make our domestic league better. Down through the age groups, with players of 14, 15 and 16, they will develop into very good players."
While Rafferty's enforced absence is a huge blow to the squad, two more absentees - believed to be Cliftonville's Billie Simpson and Linfield's Caitlin McGuinness - haven't been included by Shields due to their absence from a summer training camp.
"There were some things taken out of my control with injuries and then we had two very good players who wanted to play, but they just want to come and not be a part of our training programme. Everyone must be in the training programme in the months that we have them. Two of our best players are not attending, so they will be eliminated from the squad. That's the only negative I really have, because everyone else is wanting to get in there," Shields says.
"I've told the players from the outset that I need them to be proud to represent their country. They should be so proud of that. This is the A team in their chosen sport and what more can they ask for than that. There are so many girls in Northern Ireland who would love to be in that position. If we can get that cemented into the players' thoughts, then we can be more successful from that starting block.
"They're high profile, are doing well in the domestic league and I don't know why they don't want to play. There has to be preparation in everything you do. If I brought those two players in, then what are the other players who have been training going to think. We need to be more professional.
"We have good players who have worked hard and we can't just go on talent alone. We have to go on work ethic as well. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard and that's very, very true in these cases.
"I need a game to challenge myself and I've been given a really good challenge with the Norway game. It gives me a challenge to try and get in and working with the team and doing what I think I'm good at, which is coaching players and managing players. To do it for my country at the highest level in the chosen sport makes me feel really good."
GOALKEEPERS: Jackie Burns (Unattached), Emma Higgins (Glentoran Women)
DEFENDERS: Rachel Newborough (Charlton Ladies), Julie Nelson (Crusaders Strikers), Ashley Hutton (Linfield Ladies), Claragh Connor (Sion Swifts Ladies), Natalie Johnston (Leicester City Women), Freya Holdaway (Crystal Palace Women), Yasmin White (Glentoran Women)
MIDFIELDERS: Sarah McFadden (Durham Women), Kerry Montgomery (Motherwell Ladies), Demi Vance (Glentoran Women), Chloe McCarron (Linfield Ladies), Rebecca Holloway (Birmingham City Ladies), Marissa Callaghan (Cliftonville Ladies), Megan Bell (Durham Women), Rachel Furness (Reading Women)
FORWARDS: Simone Magill (Everton Ladies), Lauren Wade (Throttur Reykjavik), Rebecca McKenna (Linfield Ladies)
Belfast Telegraph Digital